Cards, McGwire Exercise 2001 Contract Option

ST. LOUIS (Reuters) - Mark McGwire enjoys being in St. Louis as much as the Cardinals enjoy having him there, so much so that the All-Century first baseman will be around for two more seasons.

The Cardinals announced Thursday they and McGwire have exercised an $11 million mutual contract option for 2001.

McGwire, who will make $9 million in 2000, has become an icon in St. Louis, hitting a record-breaking 70 homers in 1998 and coming close to the mark again this past season with 65 to lead the major leagues.

McGwire also won the National League crown with 147 and batted .278.

``I've said all along that there is no better place to play baseball than in St. Louis,'' he said. ``I've experienced a lifetime of memories during my time as a member of the Cardinals and I look forward to continuing this fantastic relationship.''

A commitment to winning likely helped McGwire make up his mind. After finishing fourth in the NL Central with a 75-86 record, the Cardinals have made a serious effort to upgrade their injury-plagued pitching staff, acquiring Pat Hentgen from Toronto and Darryl Kile and Dave Veres from Colorado in the past week.

McGwire, 36, hit his 500th homer in August and ranks 10th on the all-time list with 522. Fourteen of the 15 players with at least 500 home runs are enshrined in the Hall of Fame. The lone exception is Eddie Murray, who becomes eligible for induction in 2003. McGwire also was voted to the All-Century team, which was honored at the World Series.

Acquired from the Oakland Athletics at the July 1997 trade deadline, McGwire later signed a three-year contract with St. Louis.

``Everyone connected with the St. Louis Cardinals organization is extremely pleased that Mark has chosen to remain a member of the Cardinals into the next century,'' Cardinals chairman William O. DeWitt said.

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